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Report: Major League Soccer coming to Atlanta

Apr 6, 2014, 4:24 PM EDT

We told you in early February that the 23rd MLS franchise was Atlanta’s to lose, and apparently they play well with the lead, as Arthur Blank is reportedly being granted his long-held wish to own a Major League Soccer franchise.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting that Georgia is getting an MLS team.

An announcement is scheduled for April 16 in Atlanta, a person with knowledge of the situation said Sunday. The Atlanta team would become the 22nd franchise in MLS and would open play in 2017, which is also when the new $1 billion downtown stadium is scheduled to open.

Here’s the MLS response to AJC’s query:

“A Major League Soccer official issued this statement on Sunday: “We are continuing discussions with Arthur Blank to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Atlanta; however, we have not finalized an agreement at this time.”

When the Falcons released their plans for a $1 billion stadium, it included goals for hosting World Cup matches and some images of the palace in soccer mode, such as this:

  1. kirielson - Apr 6, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    Not surprised. They need to get the south and this is a way to do it.

  2. raidersownyou - Apr 6, 2014 at 5:17 PM

    What will be the capacity in this new stadium?

    • jdfsquared - Apr 6, 2014 at 7:37 PM

      Isn’t capacity for the Whitecaps around 22K, in a similar style to this false inner roof? Their games have a pretty good feel to them, even if the sound isn’t perhaps as deafening. I think this is a good solution.

    • cgerstl - Apr 6, 2014 at 9:25 PM

      According to reports, approximately 27,000. About the same as the StubHub Center.

  3. danielofthedale - Apr 6, 2014 at 9:19 PM

    This is one of the best days of my life. I have been an MLS fan since the league started and has been waiting for nearly 20 years to have a team to call my own. I will be their wry bells on and can’t wait to get my season ticket ordered! I know people that don’t live in Atlanta will throw stones at us but nothing they can do will take the shine off of this news. I know we will have a passionate ga base from day one and we will have the last laugh on this!

    And in regards to the question about stadium size, I believe it will 65k-ish with a faux roof that will leave us with the lower bowl of 25-30k.

  4. Vnice - Apr 6, 2014 at 9:23 PM

    I think the way they have that set up is pretty great. I’m a fan of how it looks in Vancouver. This will do nicely. What will NOT do? Gridiron lines on the pitch.

  5. cgerstl - Apr 6, 2014 at 9:26 PM

    YES!!!!! I’ve wanted an MLS team for so long and we’re finally getting one!!!!! #MLSweareNEXT

  6. chunkala - Apr 6, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    First of all, I’m not trolling here, just looking for honest and unbiased responses.
    Does everyone think this is a good idea? I know the Hawks and Braves have had attendance issues even though they have been in/near playoffs for a number of years. And did I hear correctly that the Falcons showed a dropoff in attendance this year? I know the season didn’t go as planned but they’ve been a playoff contender for years. I’ve also seen a number of shows on ESPN (I know, terrible) that raise questions to viability of the sports market in Atlanta. Thoughts?

    • cgerstl - Apr 6, 2014 at 10:25 PM

      The reputation ATL has for being a bad sports town is somewhat overstated and outdated. During the 90s the Braves and the Falcons were notoriously poorly managed, leading to both teams struggling to bring in fans. Today, the Braves have been in the top half of the league attendance-wise every year since 2005 and the Falcons have experienced a tremendous rebound under Arthur Blank. As far as the Hawks and the Thrashers, any team outside of the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, and Heat struggles in the NBA, and the NHL just doesn’t cut it as a winter sport trying to penetrate the boiling hot southeast US.

      The Silverbacks, ATL’s NASL team, is number 2 in attendence in the NASL (behind San Antonio) and number 3 among all lower division soccer clubs (behind San Antonio and Orlando). The city also has a large Latino population and is the largest media market in America without an MLS team. We have an owner willing to back up the team and a new stadium that can be configured for soccer.

      We are ready.

      • mvktr2 - Apr 6, 2014 at 10:54 PM

        You hit the nail on the head with a big box to be checked that most don’t consider, media market size. That’s one of the driving forces behind getting into atl & miami. Saturation in key media markets increases media rights value which financially is the most important revenue stream for the future of MLS.

  7. godsholytrousers - Apr 6, 2014 at 11:41 PM

    Love it or hate it, the Media Market is what is driving this expansion team. Face it, they bring television dollars to the ENTIRE league, even if their team is going to be poorly managed and under attended (which it may not be). Plus it is a pioneering move into the deep south, still a frontier for American soccer. NFL owners are wanting to keep their stadiums generating money when their pointy ball teams are not playing. I hope Don Garber is loading up their entry with benchmarks for attendance, funding, and win percentage. The league does not need another New England Revolution.

  8. djp141 - Apr 7, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    If we can’t get a team in the Carolinas, this is the next best thing.

  9. creek0512 - Apr 7, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    Congrats to the fans in Atlanta. Although, I’m not excited about another NFL owner. Hopefully Blank isn’t Kraft v2.0.

  10. reidldavis - Apr 7, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    I agree with that. Though Kraft was fantastic for getting MLS established, he has been a terrible owner and the Revs are hardly a model franchise. That said, everything I’ve heard says that Blank is invested in soccer, not just another revenue stream. He can actually seen patrolling the touchlines at area youth matches (he has young relatives who play) and from what I’ve heard, is a fan of the game.

    All of the caveats regarding Atlanta’s undeserved rep as a bad sports town have been stated. The Thrashers were actually wildly popular when the owners seemed to care (their lone playoff game was a sellout) but the owners ran the team into the ground and then sold them up the river, to Winnipeg. You can’t put that one on the fans, who were in revolt before the move happened. The Hawks haven’t won a title in 54 years (going back to St. Louis.) The Braves have one title to show for their 47 seasons here. The Falcons have never won a title and have only appeared in one Super Bowl.

    Finally, the “ATL is a bad sports town” narrative conveniently ignores the fact that this is a college football hotbed — and btw, those teams have far longer histories here than any of the pro teams (Braves and Falcons, 1966; Hawks, 1968) and therefore fanbases that go back generations. Every fall weekend, cars, vans and RVs stream out from Atlanta festooned in the colors of UGA or Auburn or ‘Bama or etc. to stadiums where there is rarely an empty seat. Unlike the NE, college sports WERE our pro sports for a long time, and those patterns are pretty ingrained.

    Meanwhile soccer is a blank slate, and the signs are encouraging. MLSers Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Mark Bloom (Toronto FC), Jack McInerney (Montreal Impact), and Joe Nasco (Colorado Rapids) all developed in this area. Youth soccer is a force, and Hispanic soccer is an even bigger force.

    • eroc3927 - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:31 AM

      Blank doesn’t have many more years to live, when he goes what happens to the MLS franchise. I appreciate Blank, but long term this is a bad idea. He will be preventing other investors from getting a MLS franchise in Atlanta. That is it. He is trying to lock it in. Other investors will do a better job. You cannot force soccer on the public. the public has to be ready for it. In the South you have to do it like Orlando. Get a USL or NASL team going, get your academies going, build up the supporter base, be visible in the community, increase participation by building soccer fields and facilities, then when the citizens respond you jump to MLS. You cannot force soccer down the peoples throat, especially in the South and this is what Arthur Blank will be doing. Its a high possibility that the stadium will be empty for MLS games in Atlanta. The fans don’t even show up for NBA games, why would they show up for MLS games when there will be no Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney etc. These fans in Atlanta and Miami only come out for big names. Beckham is going to have to put 3 big name players in Miami and Blank will have to do the same or the fans will not come out. Orlando is different because they built there fans base. Its Organic in Orlando. No matter who is playing the fans show up in Orlando because they have a huge soccer base, not the same with Atlanta and Miami. Good luck to MLS.

      • reidldavis - Apr 8, 2014 at 6:16 PM

        Um, we actually have an NASL team, the Atlanta Silverbacks. It drew 7,000+ people to the final last fall after drawing 4,000-5,000 to most regular-season games. I’m a season-ticket holder. That team has a raucous (some would say “hooligan-esque”) supporters group, while there is a separate supporters group, Terminus Legion, built to support ATL pro soccer in all its forms. We’ll be at Silverbacks matches and eventually also at MLS matches.

        Would I prefer for the Silverbacks to be promoted and “re-stadiumed?” No doubt. But there’s plenty of grassroots support for a savvy owner who can market and communicate well. It’s foolishness to suggest that there’s no grassroots soccer fanbase in Atlanta. If Dallas can support a team all the way out in Frisco, Atlanta can certainly support one right downtown.

  11. eroc3927 - Apr 8, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    MLS players can get ready to become second class citizens in this stadium. Never a good idea to put a MLS franchise in a NFL stadium. Seattle is now realizing this and will separate from the Seahawks. MLS should follow Seattle Sounders lead.

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